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Free Study Guide-When The Legends Die by Hal Borland- Free Book Notes
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Thomas Black Bull

Thomas Black Bull was a Ute Indian. When he was a young child of five, he and his parents were forced by circumstance to move from the town of Pagosa and live in the wild. Out in nature, he learned survival skills and made friends with the animals. His parents also taught him the old ways of Ute living, including hunting, making baskets, and gathering nuts, roots, and seeds. In addition, he could often be heard singing old Indian chants.

Thomas Black Bull was orphaned at a young age. His father was killed in an avalanche, and his mother fell sick and died. Although he was left to live by himself in the lodge before he became a teenager, he easily survived because of the skills he had been taught. He did, however, feel lonely without his parents; as a result, he befriended a young bear cub, and they became almost inseparable, almost like two siblings. When Tom went into town to trade his hand woven baskets for supplies, the bear went with him, which caused an uproar in Pagosa.

Blue Elk, an unscrupulous and greedy old Ute Indian who lived in Pagosa, was determined to bring Tom back to town to be civilized and attend school. In truth, he wanted to steal everything in Thomas Black Bullís lodge. As a result, he followed him up the mountain and tricked the boy into going back to town with him. In Pagosa, Tom was made to wear the clothing of the white man and attend school for the first time. This civilized existence was very strange and unnatural to him, and he grew miserable. In the end, his spirit was broken as he succumbs to his new way of life, forgetting the old Ute ways. Finally, he even tried to deny his Indian heritage.

Thomas Black Bull had a natural way with horses. When Red Dillon saw his talent, he took Tom into his care and taught him to be a wild bronco rider, performing in rodeos. Thomas Black Bull quickly became successful in the rodeo arena, and the crowds loved his wild, fearless performances. Unfortunately, Redís purpose in helping Tom was very selfish. He used Tom to win bets, making lots of money. When the final competition came around, Red would bet against Tom and then demand that the boy lose in the last round. Although Thomas Black Bull hated losing, he followed the orders of his boss. As a result, Red would make a lot of money on Tom from his bets.

Tom took out all of his frustrations in the rodeo ring. Feeling controlled and manipulated, he would ride the broncos hard and without mercy, sometimes killing the animals in the process. The meaner he was, the more the crowds seemed to like him. Soon they cheered him as "Killer Tom Black." Tom, however, found little pleasure in the rodeo because he was still totally under Redís control and hated how he treated the horses.

When Red died unexpectedly, Tom continued to ride bucking broncos in the rodeo, for it was the only life he had known as an adult. Although he hated travelling all the time, with no home to call his own, he did not have enough self-confidence to pursue another avenue. He returned to the ring and rode harder than ever. Even though the crowds loved his performances, he was not happy with his life. Then one day, he was thrown from a bronco and seriously injured. He had to spend a long time in the hospital while his leg healed. He took out his anger over being crippled on everyone around him, especially on his nurse Mary. Even though the doctor said he would never be able to ride again, Tom was determined to prove him wrong. When no one in the hospital was watching, he would force himself to get up and walk, ignoring the pain. When he finally left the hospital, he was determined to return to the rodeo in the future.

While he waited for his leg to completely heal, Thomas Black Bull accepted a job as a shepherd on the mountain where he had grown up. Alone with the sheep on the mountain, he had plenty of time to think and began to recall all the old Ute ways of his upbringing. He found himself once again identifying with nature and making friends with the animals. In his free time, he even sang some of the old Ute chants. For the first time in years, Tom was not ashamed on his Indian heritage.

When a grizzly bear stole one of the lambs, Tom did not kill it; instead, he talked to the bear, telling it to go away. Later, he was haunted by the fact that he did not kill the creature, for he feared it would come again to harm him and steal the sheep. Then when he told the boss about the bear, Thomas was informed that there were no grizzlies left; but Tom was convinced that the animal was a grizzly. As a result, after Tom and his boss drive the sheep off the mountain, Tom returns to the mountain to find the bear. While he searched for it, he had a dream about the All-Mother. She told Tom that he was her son. As a result, he realized that he was happy again for the first time in years. He accepted that his place was in the natural world, not in the rodeo ring. He decided to settle down on Granite Peak, near the area of his first lodge, and live according to Ute tradition. Thomas Black Bull had finally found himself.

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